Why does the church meet on Sunday? In the Old Testament Saturday was the day set apart for the Lord. The Christian church was initially made up of Jews but within a few decades the majority of the church was Gentile. The Jewish way of thinking and living faded away, including the observance a Saturday Sabbath. The church met together on the first day of the week and treated Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Why did the church start to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?
The New Testament indicates that the early church began meeting on Sunday from day one. The church began on a Sunday. The day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and thousands of Jews believed the gospel, was a Sunday. Pentecost Sunday was the beginning of the New Testament church.
Other New Testament passages indicate they church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday. In Acts 20:7 Paul met with the church in Ephesus. The meeting took place on the first day of the week, “when the disciples came together to break bread.” The custom of the church seems to have been to meet together on Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Paul instructed the church in Corinth to be taking up a collection “upon the first day of the week.” This instruction makes the most sense if the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday.
Church and Roman history reveal that the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday very soon after the death of the apostles. Pliny was a governor in the Roman Empire in the early 100’s. He wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan asking what to do about the Christians. In that letter he describes their meetings. “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” The early Christians met early in the morning on a certain day each week. Pliny does not say what day that was, but other historical references make clear that day was Sunday. In 150 AD Justin Martyr wrote in “Dialogue with Trypho a Jew”, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read.” “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.
The Didache, a series of teachings written to the churches late in the first century, says, “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks.” Though this day is not specified in the letter, the church obviously knew what day was “the Lord’s day.” The epistle of Barnabas, a letter to Christians written around 100 AD, says, “Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead.” In the gospel of Peter, written sometime in the early second century (100-150AD), Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. “And at dawn upon the Lord’s day Mary Magdalen . . . took with her friends and came to the sepulchre where he was laid.”
The change of worship from Saturday to Sunday was something that began very early in the church. The New Testament does not give a definite command to worship on Sunday, but the pattern that unfolds in Scripture and the earliest church history is of the church observing Sunday to gather together in worship and instruction.